Last week at the City Council briefing the Mayor and Council members appeared to be miffed that there wasn’t yet a formal plan to close Tent City. They had every right to be, as we continued to inch towards the proposed closure date. Five days later, MDHA presented a plan at the Homeless Encampment Update hosted by the City Manager.
First, I feel privileged to be invited to these meetings. I’m surrounded by many different city employees, a handful of council members, the chief of police and many others. For the first time, the other shelter directors had been invited to represent alternatives to this forced migration.
I’m against having a Tent City. It’s very presence is a sign that something is terribly wrong. But dismembering it without addressing the causes will have unintended consequences. Most of those in tents will not go into shelter. They will pack up their belongings and move elsewhere. They were sleeping in a different spot before this, and will return to familiar places. Some will seek shelter but most will not. We’ve given out invitations for those few empty shelter beds for years. The shelters are near capacity, it’s not as if the halls are empty. However there are still vacancies.
The closure plan, as given by MDHA is simple, and will be used in the future as the process to close down other encampments. They started this process this week, the ball is rolling.
- Signs – “No Trespassing” signs have been placed under the bridges in Tent City. This is TXDOT property, so it took lots of political meandering for the city to get the right to place the signs and enforce them. This was negotiated back in August.
- Warnings – Soon after the signs are placed, a Criminal Trespassing (CT) warning will be issued to anyone who remains in the area. These little yellow cards include the name, address and other pertinent information about the violation.
- Fences – The city is contracting for the fences to be repaired. This week the process began with landscaping crews clearing any brush from the areas to prepare for the new fence construction.
- Tickets – If a person who has already been given a CT warning is seen by a Police officer at the same address, they can issue a Criminal Trespassing Citation. It must be the same address.
- Jail – If you get a Criminal Trespassing Citation, you go to Lew Sterrett Jail. Your stay will probably be 48 hours or less, until you are bonded out and will eventually lead to a court date. These citations are misdemeanors and are not enhanceable. This means that even if you get a stack of them, the jail time will never get any longer for each citation.
They will be closing each city “block” of Tent City in a particular order. They will start with the outer blocks (A & E) and will move week by week closing each until it is completely fenced off. The goal is not to arrest anyone while they force them to leave.
This is our reality. Although I care deeply for the people there, the concentration has led to safety issues, health issues, major drug/sex trafficking, violence and countless crimes against persons. I guess the prevailing theory is: if they camp in smaller groups the problems won’t be so bad? I hope so.
Stay tuned until next week when I answer the question, “Where will they go?”